Turkish airstrikes in Iraq's Sinjar Mountains this month are endangering the safety of the Yazidis and Christian Assyrians, Iraq's indigenous people. These ethnic minorities were targeted for genocide by ISIS beginning in 2014. Pictured: Battle-damaged buildings in the town of Sinjar, Iraq photographed on February 5, 2019. (Photo by Zaid Al-Obeidi/AFP via Getty Images)
Turkey's Defense Ministry announced on June 17 that the country had "launched a military operation against the PKK" (Kurdistan Workers' Party) in northern Iraq after carrying out a series of airstrikes. Turkey has named its assaults "Operation Claw-Eagle" and "Operation Claw-Tiger," the Turkish government-funded Anadolu Agency reported.
The Yazidi and Assyrian natives of the area have expressed their condemnation of the bombings.
On June 16, the Free Yezidi Foundation (FYF) issued a statement, in which it "condemns in strongest terms the Turkish airstrikes conducted in Sinjar, Iraq."
"In 2014, Daesh (ISIS) terrorists swept through vast areas in Syria and Iraq, committing genocide against the ethno-religious minority Yezidi community in Sinjar. Yezidis have been displaced since that time and are slowly beginning to return back to their areas of origin. These airstrikes, in violation of Iraqi sovereignty, heighten the risk to Yezidi civilians and jeopardize the safe, voluntary return of a fragile and severely traumatized minority population...
"Now, the recent airstrikes conducted by Turkey have not only endangered the lives of Yezidis in Sinjar but have also dimmed the prospect of the return of civilians to their areas of origin. This places further hardship upon the more than 300,000 displaced Yezidis living in grim conditions in IDP camps."
Yazda, a multi-national Yazidi organization established in the aftermath of the Yazidi Genocide in 2014, also expressed opposition to Turkey's bombing of the Sinjar Mountains. Saad Murad, Yazda's Director of Media and Relations, told Gatestone:
"Turkish assaults on Sinjar counter and directly inhibit the U.S. Administration's stated policy objective of supporting return and reconstruction. They also hinder humanitarian work generally and make NGOs more reluctant to implement projects in the Sinjar region. Such actions prolong instability which will contribute to the exacerbation of mass emigration to Western countries."
The bombings also endanger the safety of Christian Assyrians, Iraq's indigenous people, who were targeted alongside Yazidis for genocide by ISIS beginning in 2014. Iraq is considered the heart of the Assyrian homeland.
A video of a Turkish bombing in the Assyrian town of Bersiveh was posted on social media on June 20, Athra Kado, an Assyrian rights advocate and resident of the town of Alqosh in Iraq, said to Gatestone.
"As always, our people are stuck in the middle of other people's unending fights. The PKK is turning our areas into their positions and using Assyrian civilians as their human shields. Turkey does not care about that and just keeps bombing. Despite international law, such fighting is taking place, but Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) are not saying a word about it. There appears to be nothing to do other than evacuate people from their ancient lands. On June 20, they even bombed the safe spot where the other villagers could go."
"Nobody has been killed in the bombing in Bersiveh, so it seems that the attack aimed at horrifying people," Kado added.
"Also, in the Nahla valley, the villagers are already hopeless about the situation, and it has become a life-threatening issue for them. They told me when I was there a couple weeks ago: 'When we see or hear a drone passing, we know that tomorrow there will be bombings, they could hit our village, our house, or far from us; we just don't know where.' That's the trauma they are forced to live with."
Younan Youkhanna, an Assyrian journalist based in northern Iraq, is now in the Assyrian Challik village that has been affected by Turkish bombings.
"We have been informed by the Turkish forces that 'we'll bomb whenever we want to,'" he told Gatestone.
"How could we live in such a situation? And it is not just a day or two; the bombings happen very often. The PKK fighters are passing the Iraqi-Turkish border to come here, and their fighting terribly affects the people here, but the Iraqi government remains silent on this situation. We Assyrians do not want to be part of the Turkish-Kurdish violent conflict at all. So, we have been the most negatively affected group by all this."
Youkhanna added that their livelihoods have also been negatively affected by the ongoing fighting between Turks and Kurds.
"In many of the villages in this area named Barwar, the people had sheep, and they used to feed them on the mountains, but currently, they cannot do so because of the fighting. Sharanesh and Dashtatakh villages have been emptied many times because it is often bombed almost every month. In the Barwar region, the existence of our people in all villages of Kani Maseh/Ainnoneh sub-district are in continued danger. Our people can no longer live in those villages.
"There are continued military conflicts in the area and we Assyrians are the main victims of these violent forces who fight for territorial expansion with no regard for the rights of the natives in the area. But nobody seems to be concerned about our struggles or wants to help us."
Uzay Bulut, a Turkish journalist, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute.